KENTE is a brilliantly colourful fabric, entirely hand-woven by Ghanaian weavers. The brilliant colours and intricate designs associated with Kente have definitely made this fabric the best known of all Ghanaian, and perhaps even all West African textiles. Every design has a story with a proverbial meaning, giving each cloth its own distinction.
Kente cloth is usually worn for ceremonies, festivals, and other sacred occasions. It is also given as a gift for weddings, child naming ceremonies, graduations, and other special events. The history of Kente weaving extends back more than 400 years. The word “Kente” comes from the word “kenten”, which means basket. The very first Kente weavers used raffia, or palm leaf fibres, and wove them into a cloth that looked like a basket.
One story about Kente says that two friends learned to weave by observing a spider weave its web. They wove in imitation of the spider, using raffia fibres to create a strip of fabric. Their leaders were so impressed with this new cloth that it became the royal cloth and was saved for special occasions. There are more than 300 different patterns of Kente cloth. Each pattern has a name and its own meaning. The meanings come from past events, religious beliefs, political ideas, and social customs.
Symbolic Meanings of the Colours
Black: maturation, intensified spiritual energy
Blue: peacefulness, harmony, and love
Green: vegetation, planting, harvesting, growth, spiritual renewal
Gold: royalty, wealth, high status, glory, spiritual purity
Grey: healing and cleansing rituals; associated with ash
Maroon: the colour of mother earth; associated with healing
Pink: Associated with the female essence of life; a mild, gentle aspect of red
Purple: associated with feminine aspects of life; usually worn by women
Red: political and spiritual moods; bloodshed; sacrificial rites and death.
Silver: serenity, purity, joy; associated with the moon
White: purification, sanctification rites, and festive occasions
Yellow: preciousness, royalty, wealth, fertility, beauty